The club almost went out of existence during the 12 years which have passed since the last league title, and the game was nothing more than a sideshow, with the majority of the 5768 in attendance coming to party as captain Alan Bennett was awarded the trophy after the game.
Nobody can deny that John Caulfield’s side have been the best side in Ireland this season and his players got the reception they deserved before, during, and after last night’s game as the fans celebrated their club returning to the pinnacle of domestic football.
The Shed End was bouncing a good hour before kick-off, which made for another fantastic atmosphere in a stadium, which has now seen close on 100,000 people pass through the turnstiles this season and players and management from the league winning sides of 1992/93 and 2005 were presented to the fans at half-time, which added to the occasion.
Caulfield was of course one of the stars of that 1993 league winning side under the late Noel O’Mahoney but he was otherwise engaged at half-time as his former team-mates took the plaudits on the pitch, which such club legends such as Declan Daly, Fergus O’Donoghue, Dave Barry and Mick Conroy lapping up the adulation.
Brian Lennox, who was chairman in 2005, was also present with the last league winning side, with Dan Murray, Michael Devine, Billy Woods, Neal Horgan and Derek Coughlan amongst the former crowd favourites enjoying the occasion.
Caulfield has of course the chance to etch himself in Cork football folklore if he can oversee a league and cup double next week at The Aviva against Dundalk and the City manager put out a strong side last night, eager to keep most players in tune for next week’s massive game.
Bray manager Harry Kenny was taking charge of the club for the last time and he’ll leave with his head held high after doing a superb job.
After a season that promised so much, Bray’s season fell apart during the summer with the club in turmoil behind the scenes and with so many players out of contract, it looks like it will be an entirely different Bray side that at Turners Cross in 2018.
The champions entered the arena to a tumultuous reception and with Caulfield sure to strengthen his side before the start of next season, a few players would have been making their last appearance in a City shirt at the famous old ground.
Karl Sheppard is one of those players who has been linked with a move away, and he had a great chance early on but Hugh Douglas, who is sure to attract the attention of the league’s biggest clubs, made a great block to deny the striker.
Lately, Kieran Sadlier has began to show why Caulfield signed him during the summer and the former Sligo Rovers star, was revelling in his free role behind Sheppard.
With a proper pre-season behind him, the silky skilled Sadlier looks sure to be a hit next season and he almost gave his side the lead in the 18th minute but his shot from 25 yards flew inches wide with Peter Cherrie beaten all ends up.
Bray’s goal didn’t stay intact for long however as City’s most consistent performer this season Conor McCormack, fresh from penning a new two-year contact yesterday, took advantage of some calamitous defending to score the only goal of the game from six yards out four minutes later.
The away side were struggling to get outside their half and Cherrie had to make a good save to deny Sadlier, who looked determined to nail down a starting place in next week’s side Cherrie kept the score to 1-0 in the second half as he made two great saves to deny Sadlier and Sheppard as the champions chalked up league win number 24 of this unforgettable season.
So it’s all set up for next Sunday’s end of season finale where Caulfield’s heroes will bid to become the first Cork side to complete a league and cup double since Cork Athletic in 1951, and the first domestic side since Pat Fenlon’s Bohemians side completed the feat in 2008.
McNulty; McCarthy, Bennett (Beattie 90), Williams, Griffin; Ellis (Buckley 66), Keohane, McCormack, Dooley; Sadlier (Morrissey 90), Sheppard.
Cherrie; Rogers (Rossiter 86), Douglas, Foran, Moore; Noone, Salmon (Pender 69), McCabe (Ellis 80), Sullivan, Marks; Greene.
G Kelly (Cork)